One Year Strong with APS

What an awesome year!

What an awesome year!

It wasn’t until late last Monday evening that it was brought to my attention that today is my official one year anniversary. I was totally unprepared. I feel like I’m still closing out the last school year – this milestone anniversary, it snuck up on me!

So of course I hardly got any sleep last night replaying the entire school year, (seriously, frame by frame), in my mind.  I wanted to jump up in the middle of the night and begin working, fixing things I felt were unfinished in the spring…but I forced myself to stay still and reflect on things that were strong.

We graduated more than 2,250 students this school year. That’s compared to 1,775 last year, and we will see increases in the years to come. 2015, which includes 17 Gates Scholars and 14 Posse Scholars, earned more than $106 million in scholarships and that number continues to grow. That’s pretty strong.

In Special Education we addressed all 29 original audit recommendations and continue to build upon those recommendations. For the first time in a long time data for students with disabilities is trending upward in APS! That’s really strong.

AnniversaryCollageAnd our Board of Education approved a strategic, forward-thinking General Fund budget that puts APS on a more efficient, quality-focused course especially as we move to a charter system operating model. The budget features more flexible spending and more decision-making closer to our schools, which is a hallmark of the new operating model and cluster planning.  That’s extremely strong.

We had a strong year.  Like any journey it had twists and turns, but we ended strong. And while my recent Peachtree Road Race blog spoke to the symbolism between the exhaustive work it took to prepare for the race and the hard work our teachers and leaders put in over last school year, as I write this blog, I realize that I’m not tired – in fact it’s the exact opposite.

I was out there in the rain this weekend with my colleagues, soaked to the bone and cold, but by the time I got home I was rejuvenated.  I met my goal of running the entire race, of doing it in less than 1.5 hours (my time was 1:20:47), of running up Cardiac Hill and learning healthier habits, and at the end I wasn’t sore, I wasn’t tired…I was ready for the next school year!

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Team APS!

What an incredible fireworks display. Thank you Centennial Park!

What an incredible fireworks display. Thank you Centennial Park!

And it’s not just me, our entire team is re-energized and ready for a fantastic 2015-2016 school year and we have some big lifting ahead of us. Here is a sneak peek at our work this summer:

  • We are stepping up back-to-school preparations with the first annual APS Back to School Bash! This free event includes health screenings, a free backpack stuffed with school supplies (while supplies last) and more! Join us Saturday, July 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Atlanta Metropolitan State College. Visit apsbacktoschool.com to learn more.
  • Team members are finalizing the work around our signature programming and cluster planning needed for our new operating model. We are meeting with school leaders and exploring shared accountability for teaching and learning around coherence, flexibility and autonomy, especially in budgeting. Click here to learn more about what becoming a charter district means for APS.
  • New for 2015-2016 is our partnership with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to implement a district-wide, evidenced-based social and emotional learning initiative that will enhance instructional models.
  • The heart of our academic focus this school year is the K-2 literacy, K-5 math, secondary-level balanced literacy, (the balance between whole language and phonics), and math and the shift of high schools to Discrete Mathematics.
  • We’ve identified students impacted by CRCT cheating who remain in the system and are beginning implementation for support that includes developing Individual Learning Plans to meet individual needs.
  • Last month I blogged about our new partnership with Achieve Atlanta. Achieve will provide additional college counseling support to our students, dramatically increasing the number of students entering and successfully graduating from colleges.
  • The facilities department is kicking into high gear to make ensure schools are spotless this fall. A sixth grade academy has been created for Sutton Middle School and schools such as Sylvan Hills Middle School and Bunche Middle School return to their home sites. Click here to see a full facilities update.
  • Some schools will notice new playgrounds this fall and several will notice a cool(er) breeze! We are honoring our promise of playgrounds for all APS elementary schools and moving forward with HVAC system upgrades on multiple campuses.
  • Day One APS, our first day of school, is Wednesday, August 5 and we encourage everyone to take advantage of all of our registration and enrollment opportunities. So far 44,000 students are registered and we anticipate another 6,000 by August.
  • To help you ‘Be There’ on ‘Day One,’ I encourage you to take advantage of our brand new online new student enrollment tool which launched this week.
  • We have several new principals joining us this year and a few seasoned principals moving to new schools. All of our principals and teachers are preparing for the districtwide Open House, Monday, Aug. 3. Check out the schedule HERE.
  • Bus arm cameras will help keep students safe traveling to and from school, parents will be able to follow the journey with our brand new bus tracker app and a new electronic field trip service request form will allow more children to participate in field trips.
  • And of course senior leaders are focused on corrections that must be made to schools before the Georgia Opportunity District (OSD) attempts to assume control of under-performing schools. I’m not in support of this state plan for several reasons, including the fact that we are amid an operating model change that may take years to implement. APS needs time to make corrections.

It’s our anniversary, (yes, you and I), and I’m telling you now, I’m fired up for the new school year!  Being surrounded by colleagues who are also committed to building a district of strong students, strong staff and strong schools is an awesome feeling and I can’t wait for August 5. Ready, set, go!

...but not too fast, or you may drop your phone like I did during the Peachtree Road Race!

…but not too fast, or you may drop your phone like I did during the Peachtree Road Race!

Getting Stronger for the Peachtree Road Race and Next School Year

After graduation, and for the umpteenth late night in a row, I was buried in APS school-year closeout, sitting in my office cranking out emails again, when Board Member Matt Westmoreland stopped by. As a native Atlantan and Grady High School grad who loves this city – as do all my Board members – and promotes all of the good events offered around Atlanta, Matt suggested that I make time for the Hotlanta summer experience, especially the Fourth of July weekend activities! He suggested that I stay in town and do two things:

  1. Experience the fireworks near Centennial Park that can be seen from my home, and
  2. Enter the Peachtree Road Race.

I didn’t know about either!  He said that if I was going to live and work in Atlanta, I should run the Peachtree Road Race. I haven’t been a real runner since my teaching days and even then I didn’t run 10k’s! Two of my top five strengths are achiever and deliberative, which means I must have a plan (and I do love it when a plan comes together).  Together we came up with an ambitious plan.  Check out the napkin in the photo below.  He convinced me that if I stuck to the schedule, between June 5 and July 4 that in just three short (albeit intense) weeks I could run this race and achieve my goals. I took a leap of faith and decided to run. napkinschedule Agreeing to take on the largest 10K in the world (who knew?) was a way to challenge myself and a way to de-stress while getting closure on the end of this school year. Symbolically, it has been a reminder to me of what feeling the burn, if you will, is like when going through any kind of transition. Our district must become a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.  That is our vision, however some in APS, myself included, have experienced many challenging days and nights as we transform ourselves into what we must be for the children and families of Atlanta. It’s tough, both the training for the Peachtree and the rebuilding of a school district, and yet I’m hopeful for this district.  I’ve watched myself grow as I worked my plan to achieve this personal goal and I know if we come together in APS, we can grow and transform this district, too.

Running Centennial Park

Running Centennial Park

Cardiac Hill.

Cardiac Hill.

I also took this opportunity to experience Atlanta’s awesome neighborhoods and parks. We live in a beautiful city, which inspired me more to make the most of what it offered.  I set a high goal for myself to actually run the entire race and to do it – without stopping – in under 1.5 hours.

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My APS colleagues and BOE members rock!

In my final days before the race, I recognized that it would still be a struggle to attain my goals. So imagine my delight when approximately two dozen APS colleagues, as well as Board members, turned out for my final practice run last night, including our new CFO! For me that’s an important lesson in all of this.  While it’s important to personally be laser focused and put your head down to reach a goal, you must remember to surround yourself with other like-minded souls when the lift is heavy and the finish line looks a long ways away. Training for the Peachtree allowed me to make new friends in the community who also have an interest in running.  Relationships matter, and I’ve met some fantastic Atlantans on this journey.

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Even in the downpour, we ran!

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Soggy shoes equal a great run!

We mapped our run through Piedmont Park.

4.9 miles!!! We mapped our run through Piedmont Park.

So here are a few more of my personal goals for this weekend, in no particular order: Run the entire time. Don’t embarrass the district. Learn healthier habits. Don’t use this as an excuse to eat pasta (for energy of course), all the time. Run, don’t walk, up Cardiac Hill. Run for kids (I am honored to be running for the Atlanta Track Club’s Kilometer Kids youth running program). One more addendum: Music motivates me, so I created a playlist that is special to me. My hope is that when I listen to it in the future, it will remind me of this special day.  I’ll use a few songs from my playlist to close out this blog. You can “Count on Me” to “Just Dance” my way around every turn. This has truly been a “Lesson in Love,” and I’ve learned that “What Doesn’t Kill You” makes you stronger. I’m hoping I get the “Greenlight,” make it to the finish line and “Die Another Day!” (Check out my full playlist below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say thank you to all of our Board of Education members and my colleagues who have supported me in this effort. If you are at the race Saturday, please cheer on Atlanta Public Schools! The participating Board members and I will be wearing APS “Back to School Bash” T-shirts.  I look forward to “running” into you!

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Picking up my number for the big race!

Dr. C’s Peachtree Road Race Playlist: Yeah! – Usher Lessons in Love – Level 42 Greenlight – John Legend Count on Me – Bruno Mars Love You like a Love Song – Selena Gomez Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen Billie Jean – Michael Jackson Die Another Day – Madonna Just Dance – Lady Gaga Somebody I Used to Know – Gotye My life Would Suck without You – Kelly Clarkson Get Lucky – Daft Punk So What – Pink Toxic – Britney Spears Waiting for Tonight – J Lo Don’t You Worry, Child – Swedish House Mafia We Found Love – Rihanna Jai Ho! – A.R. Rahman All about That Bass – Meghan Trainor Locked out of Heaven – Bruno Mars (Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You – Kelly Clarkson After this experience I feel stronger and more prepared for the next school year.  Happy Fourth of July weekend!

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Ready to go!